AFTER two seasons of false starts and missed opportunities, Cooper Stephens is raring to go.
The 2019 first round draft selection is harnessing the power of back-to-back seasons of frustration, cut short by injury and the lack of football at VFL level.
Without an official game to his name at either AFL or VFL level in his first two seasons at the club, Stephens has channelled his energy into dedicated preparation for the 2022 pre-season.
“We’ve put in a really good off-season and probably been training for the past 10 weeks just solo,” he says.
“I think all the boys have been really keen to get back.”
The former number 16 draft selection teamed-up with housemates Francis Evans and Nick Stevens to get a head-start on pre-season.
“We’ve just moved in together,” Stephens says.
“It’s been pretty easy just to link up, put a message into the Whatsapp and get the local boys down so it’s been really good.”
The hard-nosed Colac product is thriving under the tutelage of some of the team’s experienced campaigners.
“Joel (Selwood) has been coming in, Shaun Higgins has been really leading that group, Duncs (Mitch Duncan) has been coming in,” Stephens says.
“Just to really pick their brains over the last 10 weeks and two years has been really advantageous for us.
“It almost feels like we’ve got 20 or 30 games under our belt from picking their knowledge.”
The tough inside midfielder who stands at 188cm with an AFL-ready frame is excited just to be back playing footy again, after an ankle injury wiped out most of his second year at the club.
Stephens’ only appearances for the club came in the form of hub scratch matches against mixed opposition on the Gold Coast and in Western Australia in 2020.
“I haven’t played for a couple of years, but I haven’t fallen too far behind just because of the Covid reasons,” says.
“If you look around at even the draftees, they didn’t get to play in the last couple of years either.
“We’ve all kind of started together from that square one and are working together to get that debut so it’s been good.”